We all want to give back, but donating to charity can often feel daunting. There’s lengthy sign up forms, well-meaning volunteers surprising you around every corner, or you might be tight on cash and a regular donation can feel unrealistic.
Meet Givebot. He’s the chatbot created to seamlessly integrate Facebook with donating to charity. Givebot’s aim is to let the user take control of the donation process. The best part? Givebot’s donations weigh in at the price of a coffee, beer, or bottle of bubbly so you can donate as little or as much as you can afford.
Givebot’s founders, Rupert Parry and Max Harrison met through friends and decided to band their skills in web development and marketing to create their chatbot that allows people to donate faster, easier and with transparency. We spoke to Rupert and Max about bringing an age old practice to the digital era, the future of technology, and what it takes to launch a startup.
Tell us about Givebot.
Rupert: “Our mission at Givebot is to make philanthropy a daily habit, something that people can do whenever and wherever they are. Instead of trying to get people to donate large amounts of money, or to sign up for monthly subscriptions, we just ask them to chip in a small cash donation whenever they can. If a lot of people can give a little bit, it really adds up.”
Max: “Givebot is a charity chatbot that is guided by the purpose of fostering a culture of giving on social media. Givebot does this by simplifying the process, providing charity information and the motivation directly to donors. You always get the same top 10 charities in Australia taking the main advertising spaces. On top of that problem was the signup processes that is a barrier and can easily push a potential donor away.”
R: “I think technology and good user experience design is still vastly under-utilised in the not-for-profit sector. That’s part of the problem that Givebot is trying to address. Many charities don’t consider how people might really want to give. For a lot of people, mail-outs and monthly donations are just not relevant or useful anymore. Researching new methods is the most important step.”
How did you guys get started in tech?
R: “When I was 14 I started learning about HTML, and then got interested in some basic hacking, playing around with the intricacies of Telnet and finding my way around Linux. The ability to write your own programs to do things, or see the code you’d written turn into real website you could interact with, was powerful and addicting. That definitely planted the seed for my work in tech.”
Givebot is something you’ve built from the ground up. How many bumps have you experienced along the way?
R: “Good design basically requires constant failure, because you’re constantly testing your assumptions, and your assumptions are never 100% right. Every time we test with users, we find an area that we’ve failed, or that we can improve on. We also naively assumed that all charities would be keen to come on board, but it’s a lengthy process on their end. That’s not something we factored in initially, as we focused on the user experience for donors.”
M: “Agreed. The biggest failure was probably making too many assumptions in the beginning. You don’t notice when you’re doing it. We got too excited about things that weren’t very important.”
What would you say is the best part of making Givebot?
M: “The most rewarding part of Givebot is definitely learning about all the small Aussie charities that do their part for the community. You don’t realize how involved they are until you talk to the people who run them.”
R: “Yeah, Givebot would definitely be the most ambitious and meaningful project I’ve ever worked on. It’s the first time I’ve created a product, created a company, shared it, and had people pay for it. That’s an awesome milestone.”
You guys have paired charity with this fun new technology. What other tech advancements are exciting you right now?
M: “I work in print so it’s amazing to see the printing tech get better and more powerful. The trick is the context of how you use new technology and whether it’s really going to be useful. Rupert loves his new technologies too. He’s already built a virtual reality landscape!”
R: “The most exciting area in technology I see at the moment is probably machine learning. It’s slowly getting better. You can already see this happening with products like Google Now. I recently flew to Dubai airport, and when I glanced at my phone to try and work out where the nearest hotel was, it showed me a map of Dubai airport, a translation for how to ask for directions, and the boarding pass for my next flight. It will be very exciting to see how that progresses.”
Any advice for people looking to create a startup?
M: “Find a great partner, have an idea and just go through with it. Even if you can’t quit your day job you learn so much in a small space of time from working for yourself.”
R: “For me, the easiest way to learn has been to just start making something and pick it up as I go along. It can be frustrating, but never underestimate the didactic power of just building something. Everything starts to fit together when you know what you’re making.”
M: “Innovation is really about having crazy ideas and finding out if they would work with something else. Write the crazy ideas down and see if you like them tomorrow.”
How can we get involved?
M: “You can give a little and change a lot on Givebot right now.”
– Eliza Brockwell
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Author: Heather Catchpole
Heather co-founded Careers with STEM publisher Refraction Media. She loves storytelling, Asian food & dogs and has reported on science stories from live volcanoes and fossil digs